Housing Guide 2011: Greening Your Apartment

A long Chicago winter can make global warming seem like a blessing, but assuming we want to avoid taking the Earth down that track, here’s some advice to make your apartment greener–and save some money on the utilities bill as well.

Check your apartment for any leaky faucets or drafts, and fix any you find right away. Caulk and weatherstripping can seal air leaks, and both are available at hardware stores for a less than the price of a hot cocoa.

Choose your lightbulbs with care. A compact fluorescent light bulb uses about 75% less energy than regular incandescent bulbs and can last up to 10 times longer. But three warnings about CFLs: 1) They contain mercury, and should be recycled carefully. 2) They take longer to warm up then regular bulbs, so they may seem unusually dim at first. 3) Turning them on and off frequently lowers their efficiency. They should only be turned off if you’re leaving the room for more than 15 minutes.

Talk to your landlord about the energy efficiency of the apartment and the availability of recycling. A recently weatherized apartment, with upgrades like more insulation and better doors and windows, is easier on the environment and your bank account.

Do the kitchen and bathroom have low-flow fixtures? They should not flow at more than 2.5 gallons per minute. You can test this yourself by timing how long it takes for the shower to fill up a one-gallon container. Because of federal regulations, all new showerheads and faucets cannot exceed this flow rate. With a new aerator, the faucet can flow at one 1 gpm.

The best advice to green-minded renters is to remember the obvious: turn off your lights and unplug your electronics when you’re not using them. Save water, reduce, reuse, recycle, and buy local whenever you can.